Once the capital city of Vietnam, Hue attracts both local and international visitors to see its unique history. This can be seen through the palace, many royal tombs, and also pagodas and temples that bear great ancient architectural and historical values. Among them, Mieu Thai To temple complex is one of the must-see attractions in Hue.
I. History of Mieu Thai To Temple Complex
Located in the southwest corner of the Imperial Citadel, Mieu Thai To is a great temple complex to worship emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. In 1821, Emperor Minh Mang decided to move Hoang Khao Mieu to the north and renamed it to Hung To Mieu. Then, he built Mieu Thai To in its place. So, you also can reach both of them by foot as they are in the same compound.
The place was built to worship Emperor Thai To Cao, and maybe that’s why it got the name Thai To Mieu. Nowadays, it has become the place to worship all Nguyen dynasty’s emperors. Though the country underwent a turbulent past with several wars, the temple complex was luckily kept intact. Compared to other temples in Hue, it is considered the most untouched temple.
As it plays an important role in Nguyen Ritual purpose, the temple covers a total area of 2 ha rectangle compound, accounting for 1/18 area of the Forbidden City and the Imperial Citadel.
Apart from the temple, the whole templex complex also offers significant work including Hien Lam Cac, Cuu Dinh, Hung To Mieu, Tho Cong Tu, Ta Vu, and Huu Vu.
II. Structure of Thai To Mieu Temple Complex
Walking through the main gate of the complex which has the “Tam Quan” – a typical architectural style of Nguyen dynasty, you will see a large yard in Bat Trang tiles (a famous pottery brand in Vietnam during that time). One side of the yard is Hien Lam Cac which stands out with the striking 3 floors and also is the highest construction in the citadel. On the other side, you can see the Nine Dynastic Urns.
1. The Main Compound
Stepping into the main compound, you will see the Hien Lam Cac – a monument of Nguyen Emperors’ achievements. Built in 1821 and completed in 1822, it made a great contribution to the Nguyen dynasty. The pavilion comprises 3 tiers with a total of 9 rooms. It brings high artistic value with the pillar system carved with royal patterns like exquisite dragons.
Following the pavilion, you will go through 2 doors called Tuan Liet Gate (on the left) and Sung Cong Gate (on the right). After that, you will enter the impressive space of Thai To temple which has typical Nguyen imperial building style. The temple is an unification of 2 houses connected by a ceiling system. This style can easily be found in many parts of Hue Imperial City, called “Trung Thiem Diep Oc”.
2. The Hall System
The system has wooden architecture comprising 3 parts. The front hall consists of 11 chambers and 2 wings. The main hall has 9 chambers and double wings on a platform made of stone. Stepping inside, you will find the rear hall at the back of the building. The corridor in crab shell shape and red and yellow lacquer connects these 3 halls.
The roofs look impressive with typical yin and yang style. The enamel paintings and dragon sculptures create an elaborate ridge, which is a signature of Emperors’ usage. On the 2 sides of the compound, you can see 2 special bronze unicorns. They are the symbol of the sacred spirits to protect the Mieu Thai To Temple Complex.
3. The Nine Dynastic Urns
The Nine Dynastic Urns, or “Cửu Đỉnh”, is a valuable artwork in the temple complex. As its name suggests, there are 9 urns put in the front of Hien Lam pavilion. They were constructed and completed in 1837, representing the unity and the beauty of the country as well as sustainable existence of the Nguyen Dynasty. Each urn has a name symbolizing an emperor of the dynasty. The central one is dedicated to Gia Long emperor. There are 153 carvings on the urns with popular themes like universe, rivers, mountains, weapons, animals, etc. These create a great combination between carving and bronze casting. Until now, all of them are still in their original position and remain intactly.
4. Thai To Mieu
Among the parts of the temple complex, Thai To Mieu is the most important place. Located in an area of 2 hectares, it is divided into 2 houses: the main one has 9 rooms and the other one has 7 rooms. They are connected together. Looked from afar, its roof looks amazing with lapis lazuli tiles. Getting inside, you can get a feeling of going back to ancient times of the Nguyen Dynasty. To enter this place, you need to cover your shoulders and knees as well as dress properly. This is a sign to show respect to the Nguyen Emperors.
Here, you can see the altar of 10 emperors. According to Nguyen lineage’s law, only 7 emperors could be worshiped in Thai To Mieu as they died while still being an emperor. But in 1958, the altars of 3 more patriotic emperors consisting of Thanh Thai, Ham Nghi, and Duy Tan, were moved here. Among these emperors, Gia Long and his empresses are worshipped in the middle and the altar of other kings are placed on the left and the right.
Generally, Mieu Thai To Temple Complex is one of the must-visit attractions for those who want to dig deeper into Vietnam’s history. Many valuable information of the Nguyen Emperors are kept here. Luckily suffering little damage through the wars, it gives visitors an authentic look at the past of Nguyen dynasty.